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Monday, October 25, 2010

Canadiens Week in Preview - Coyotes, Isles, and Panthers

Big week ahead as the Canadiens are allowed to perform 3 times on home ice in the next 4 matches. And there are many that think that this could be a great opportunity to pick up a bucket of points before the week is up.

I wish I could say that I share that optimism.

There is no doubt that we are continuing to see improvement in the squad over last year at this time. After seven games last season, the Habs were a mere 2-5-0.  It was definitely a different set of circumstances as we were on a West Coast swing to begin the year in '09-'10, but it's more than apparent that things are not what they were at this point last year.

To begin with, the goaltender controversy was in full swing by this time a mere 365 days ago. And despite a rocky preseason, Carey Price has shown both his ability and desire to succeed this season. That has been clearly proven by his numbers thus far. Secondly - the incessant griping over the size of the team at the beginning of last year, seems to have been mildly quashed by the overwhelming showing that the so-called "Smurf Line" put up during the playoff run that impressed both fans and critics alike.

But we head into a week that brings a lot of talent. A week that could be tougher than we all think. Especially the eternal optomists.

When you look at the Islanders and their overall performance last season, it seems like a "shoe in" that we take at least a split from this team over the next five days. Meeting them back to back in matches that see Montreal hosting on Wednesday, and then visiting on Friday - this could be a very tough back to back series. Considering that they finished last season with a 34-37-11 record (13th out of 15 in the conference - ahead of only Florida and Toronto) they have; so far, shown a considerable turnaround. It would seem that many are hanging their hats on what was - as opposed to what is.

With a healthy Tavares back in the line-up (acquiring 7 points through 5 goals and 2 assists), as well as Parenteau, and Wisniewski giving solid performances thus far - this team is no lock up to be a lay down and give up 4 points. Just take a trip to the Isles NHL website, and you can see that they're already getting prepared for a shutdown of the Habs.

And the Coyotes are no easy, simple, puzzle to fix tonight either. For a team that apparently has no following, they packed in 107 points last season, and had a surprising playoff run. Regardless of the slow start this season (2-2-2), Stempniak could breakout anytime, and Adrian Aucoin, Ed Jovanovski, and Eric Belanger could easily wreak havoc.

I don't even know where to fit the Florida Panthers into this whole discussion. Despite the fact that they're 3-3-0, they can always find a way to tie the Habs hands behind their backs. Lets pass on the offense that they has struggled to perform in their first 6 games. Instead look at the numbers of Tomas Vokoun who has a current 2.14 GAA and a SV% of .925. When you look at the struggle the Canadiens offense has had in putting up goals this year - facing a netminder like Vokoun could cause trouble in a game that the Habs might otherwise dominate.

I'm not trying to be a pessimist here. I'm just trying to be a realist. With an organization that traditionally can't hold their own against teams that should not pose a problem, we have a week full of those types of contests. The Habs shine when faced with adversity, but there is no guarantee that adversity will shine its inglorious face down on La Flanelle this week.

What we can hope for over the next 4 games is this. That the second line "project" will end and that there will be consistency for the offense to work with. That the powerplay will continue to progress in the right direction - regardless of whether Markov returns by weeks end or not. And that Mr Carey Price continues to play as magically, and strongly as he has.

More than that, I hope that the roster doesn't go into this week with the mindset of some of their fans. That it's going to be an easy 8 points. Because that's the exact thought process that could see us tumbling faster than a Leaf in the fall.

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